With a highly sensitive report coming out about allegations of misconduct by anti-Israel professors, Columbia University officials turned to the news organization they trusted most to handle the delicate subject: the New York Times.
Representatives of the two institutions then struck a deal: Columbia would grant the Times exclusive early access to the report if the Times agreed that its reporter wouldn't seek comment on the report from interested parties, or do additional reporting until the next day when the report was made public. As it happened, the newspaper, with Columbia's permission, did seek comment from a faculty member whose conduct was criticized in the report, Joseph Massad, but it kept its promise not to solicit comment from the Jewish students who had come forward with the complaints against the professors.
The arrangement was first reported last week by The New York Sun.
The Times, in an editor's note on Page A2 yesterday, acknowledged that its front-page, March 31 article was "incomplete" without comments from the Jewish students.
At the same time, some of the Columbia students were angry that a university that is home to a widely respected journalism school and awards the Pulitzer prizes opted to manipulate the news.
Columbia "obviously did not want us to criticize the report, and have it appear in the paper the next day," a Barnard College student, Dena Roth, said. She and other students who belong to Columbians for Academic Freedom said the committee's report ignored or minimized the students' complaints against the professors.
On April 1, in the B section of the newspaper, the Times ran a separate story about the report, with comments from the Jewish students and others.
Yesterday's five-paragraph editor's note stated that the Times reporter - who was the higher-education reporter, Karen Arenson - and her editors violated newspaper policy when they accepted Columbia's deal.
The Times note said the reporter and editors "did not recall" the relevant policy and "agreed to delay additional reporting until the document had become public." The note said the paper "insisted" on getting the response from Mr. Massad, "the professor accused of unacceptable behavior." It concluded: "Without a response from the complainants, the article was incomplete; it should not have appeared in that form."
In March 2004, the Times revised its guidelines regarding confidential news sources. The guidelines, published on the Times' company Web site, state in part: "We do not promise sources that we will refrain from seeking comment from others on the subject of the story."
Columbia officials have refused to comment publicly on the arrangement, which sources said was pushed forward by the university's public affairs office, headed by the university's executive vice president, Loretta Ucelli. Ms. Roth said the assistant vice president in that office, Susan Brown, told her and other students that the university had given the report exclusively to the Times and the Columbia Spectator, the student newspaper.
"She said she didn't want us to comment without having read it," Ms. Roth said. Students were then denied permission to read the committee's report, she said.
Around 11:30 p.m., Columbia's provost, Alan Brinkley - son of the celebrated television journalist David Brinkley - agreed to let the Jewish students view the report. By then, the Times had already published its article on the report on the paper's Web site.
Ms. Brown and Ms. Ucelli declined to comment.
The dean of Columbia's Graduate School of Journalism, Nicholas Lemann, a longtime staff writer for New Yorker magazine, said the deal may have been a breach of ethics - but a minor one.
"This would be in the realm of the venial, and I'm not sure whose sin it is: the Times, Columbia, or both," he said. "In an ideal story, the story would quote all parties concerned."
A New York University journalism professor, Jay Rosen, called the arrangement between Columbia and the Times "extraordinary" and said it violated "common sense."